How to Receive Feedback with a Growth Mindset


People may appreciate feedback, but typically nobody likes hearing where they fell short or could have done better. At NLI, our approach to feedback focuses on making it feel manageable, non-threatening. That’s how teams can stay in the right mental state to stay engaged in their work, rather than avoid opportunities, due to fears of failure.

Based on our recent review of the research, featured in the white paper “Transforming Feedback With a Growth-Mindset Approach,” growth mindset goes a long way toward helping employees react to — and act on — any feedback they may receive.

The power of growth mindset

Growth mindset does a lot for organizations. It helps teams prize development over genius, and it enables smarter performance reviews through managers’ willingness to change their view of others.

But growth mindset also does a lot on the individual level, too. First studied among young students in the 1970s, work done over the last decade from NLI Chief Science Officer Dr. Heidi Grant has shown that employees can have growth mindset in how they approach their professional capabilities.

Feedback is a major area where growth mindset proves valuable. Generally, feedback conversations begin with some version of the same ominous question: Can I give you some feedback? Instantly, our minds may wander to create worst-case scenarios. Maybe we conjure images of getting reprimanded for some past transgression, or simply imagine getting fired on the spot. The lack of certainty in the question causes us to fill in that certainty on our own, and not always in a helpful way.

Here a growth mindset can help because it primes us to accept that feedback is actually a good thing. We want to improve. We want to get better. Fixed-mindset thinking views criticism as an attack on our self-worth. Growth-mindset thinking leaves room for the possibility that we may have a blind spot. Getting feedback, in other words, isn’t necessarily personal. A manager’s criticism may involve our performance, but growth mindset compels us not to tie that work to our identity.

How to handle feedback with a growth mindset

When it comes to getting feedback, growth mindset builds on the same fundamentals to knowing you’re about to receive some feedback. Imagine a simple scenario: You’ve just given a major presentation and your manager asks if she can share her thoughts about how it went.

Growth-mindset thinking would have you enter that conversation holding in mind any larger goals you may have: improving at public speaking, clearly articulating your thoughts, and so on. Any piece of feedback your manager gives you can only help you move toward or away from that goal. You may not necessarily agree with everything she says, but at least your mind will be open and receptive to her input. With fixed-mindset thinking, we typically shut down immediately because we’re too afraid of hearing bad news.

Growth mindset, multiplied

The beauty of growth mindset is that it’s self-reinforcing. As we continue to have more feedback conversations, each one can become easier than the last. What’s more, we can start discussing higher-stakes issues with more honesty and transparency, because neither side feels afraid of being threatening or getting threatened.

That, ultimately, is how organizations build growth mindset cultures: They help everyone realize — and embody — the fact that getting better is more important than being good.

Author: Chris Weller